A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Critical Assault

Today was an interesting day... I spent almost the entire day at my FLGS, hoping to either run a game or participate in one. Here is my experience...

Disorganized Play

I was looking forward to the opportunity to DM my first live game in over a decade. I prepared two campaigns: one homegrown and simplistic, the other was Revenge of the Iron Lich.

Last week I offered the idea of RotIL to the players at the store, but I don't think the concept of it really sank in with many of them. Although I think they would have enjoyed it, they didn't seem all that interested in doing something different. Maybe it's because I'm a newcomer and they don't know who I am or what I'm capable of, and I have to accept that if that was the case.

But running what amounts to a "pick up" game at a FLGS is not that simple.

  • The store owner doesn't help at all. In the case of this store, the owner is heavy in to Magic: The Gathering, as can be expected: it's a cash cow and probably the primary source of revenue for his store. So he seemed rather disinterested in anything else, and left it up to the players to arrange WPN events all on their own.
  • Today, half the store was taken up by the Star Trek Fan Club, which consisted of a bunch of guys older than I am taking up a half dozen tables with their various Enterprise models and cardboard stand-ups of ship captains, and sitting around talking Star Trek. I'm not sure why they were there or what they hoped to accomplish, but between them and several tables of card games (MtG and other card games; I don't know which), we were pretty cramped. There was barely enough room to run Lair Assault, and I can't imagine running something like RotIL which has a much larger map.
  • The primary game organizer was not there today.
  • There was no organization or scheduling of games; people just showed up in the hopes of playing. Again, this could seem that way simply because I'm an outsider and don't have the level of communication other players do (who, for all I know, see each other every day). But besides word of mouth there does not seem to be any planning or precise event scheduling, so it's impossible for an outsider to plan their participation.
  • I tried to gauge interest by posting on the store's Facebook page. I got one person interested, and that person canceled this morning. So I cannot recruit players; if there are players out there they aren't on Facebook, or at least don't follow the store's page with activities.
  • I suggested to the owner "...that maybe Encounters could be run on other days?" He looked at me as if I was crazy. Wizards of the Coast "kind of expects this to be run on Wednesdays", and a 7:30pm start time is kind of a hard sell. But if I decide to run it on a different day or at a different time, how would I get people to attend? I can't put those off days on the WotC store locator because, as per their guidelines, Encounters *must* be on Wednesdays.

So because of all that, I was unable to run my own game; at this rate maybe it isn't meant to be, at least at this locatin.

Instead, I participated in...

Lair Assault: Forge of the Dawn Titan (Warning: possible SPOILERS!)

The group, without my knowledge, decided to go for the "everyone is the same race" achievement.

The race they chose? Gnomes. Based on m observation of the game the last year, I had created a tiefling mage designed with two things in mind:

  1. Being a controller: forced movement and dazing effects, with the hope that we can push things aside and run right through it to the boss.
  2. Cold attacks. This one was common sense: if you're in a zone that's filled with lava, cold attacks must be really useful... Right?

So I had to spend a bit converting my tiefling in to a gnome. If I must, I must... Although Fade Away is probably much more useful than Infernal Wrath in a place where everything has fire resistance.

This might have worked well except for one thing: by the third round, I was unconscious. Why? The DM, and I'm not making this up, rolled THREE consecutive critical hits against me within the first two rounds. The only thing I managed to do before going down for the count is activating Wizard's Fury and firing one Magic Missile. Even with using interrupts like Shield and Fade Away, I was at -4 hit points at the end of round 2 due to two critical hits. The healer revived me, only to get hit with the third critical hit that took me down again.

After that, the party left me to die as they continued forward. I failed my first two death saves before the "very bad thing" happens (if you've played the module, you know what I mean) and killed me outright.

All in all it was an entertaining experience, but mostly due to the social aspects of the game. Nobody enjoys getting mercilessly beaten to death by an unforgiving d20, but it was cool all things considered. I did learn a lot: the group has gone through this campaign several times before, so they knew exactly what needed to be done and what special powers would benefit them.

I had to leave before the end of the game - I did die 30 minutes in, after all - so I'm not sure if they made it. They were doing fairly well and had a lot of time left, so perhaps they did.

For what it's worth, thanks to my participation in this game I think I now have my DCI number issues sorted out. I'm officially registered, so now I can really be a WPN event organizer! Woo!


I don't know when I'll ever get to DM a game in person at this rate. Maybe it'll just take time, getting to know the players that are there and convincing them that I can do this, but even then it's going to be hard to get everyone there in an organized manner.

There is another option: online play, using any number of social networking services like Google Hangouts, Skype, etc... It seems that I may have to look in to getting a decent headset and microphone, and then seeing who out there wants to run a game and what kind of game.

Until then, I have a box labeled "Revenge of the Iron Lich"... A modern day Pandora's Box, just waiting to be unleashed on unsuspecting masses.

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  1. You are spot on with how game store management acts about RPGs. We have three game stores in this city, and while you can purchase all sorts of games off their shelves, it will be all about Magic: the Gathering. When I showed up once at a store to run a game, one player was so threatened by my presence that he set up his laptop playing Magic Online, and turned it on the table to face anybody who sat down, as if by doing this he kept everyone enthralled.

    If you get anyone to ever play a game other than Magic: the Gathering at a game store here, you shout “Bingo!”

  2. Last night I confirmed that I am on a very similar scenario with my new FLGS. The shop has only been open for a month and while they encourage people to come in to run RPGs there, they have no part in organising. This is because that are focusing on building up Magic, Warhammer, Yu-Gi-Oh and other games with tournament structures and steadier revenue earners.

    I don’t blame them. I used to own a shop myself and I know what it’s like, but they don’t even have a physical or virtual space for organizing play. You have to be a regular to meet people and I don’t have the time to do that.

    Worse, the owner is a friend who used to come to my old store as a teen. He’s asked me to run D&D events for him, but he can’t make the time to work it out with my over e-mail and he refuses to delegate to his staff. Makes no sense to me.

    I have a group of people interested in starting a game over G+ but they want to hold off until October. If it actually happens, I’ll be sure to tweet about it! Likewise, if you want to try a game over Skype or G+, I’ve be interested in trying that out.

  3. That sucks. I’m lucky that our FLGS (which I haven’t used for RPGing nearly as much as I should) has good RPG support (including a regular story games night).

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